How Green Is My Mini-Bar?

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine

Outside magazine, May 1999


How Green Is My Mini-Bar?
A reduced, recycled, reused sojourn at America's most guilt-free upscale hotel

Ever since its grand opening in late January, guests have been flocking to Philadelphia's Sheraton Rittenhouse Square Hotel, on the corner of 18th and Locust, to bask in a climate of environmental correctness rarely glimpsed outside the city's annual Earth Day "be-in" at Fairmount Park. The Rittenhouse Experience begins the moment you step onto the blue lobby tiles (which have been fashioned from 93 percent recycled granite) and draw your first breath (which a filter chamber on the seventh floor has scrubbed clean of mold, pollen, and bacteria). The consummating moment, however, occurs only after you've placed a Do Not Disturb sign made of recycled aluminum on the doorknob, hopped into a bed whose maple footboard is coated with a "catalytic lacquer" to eliminate glue fumes, and begun drifting off to sleep, secure in the knowledge that your skin is caressed by sheets woven from organically grown cotton that has never been tainted by pesticides, fertilizers, or toxicdyes.

Although there are a number of green hotels in the United States, none has so thoroughly and meticulously stuffed as many environmentally sensitive features into a single building as the Rittenhouse. Merely describing the highlights fills up a glossy seven-page brochure (recycled paper, toxin-free soy ink) that the housekeeping staff thoughtfully places on each guest's night table (constructed from recycled shipping pallets). But even those who take the time to peruse this pamphlet--perhaps in search of an explanation for why they are being charged up to $269 a night for a standard-size double-occupancy room --may not be aware that its introduction is written by a 56-year-old Manhattan real estate developer named Barry Dimson, who in addition to owning a piece of the Rittenhouse happens to be one of the country's leading proponents of environmental architecture.

A development tycoon who made millions slapping up shopping malls and high-rise apartments along the East Coast, Dimson didn't convert to the green gospel until 1993, when his son Stuart, who was majoring in environmental studies at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, started bombarding his dad with reports from the Worldwatch Institute and books on deforestation. Moved to a kind of eco-epiphany, Dimson says, he enrolled in an environmental education program at New York University and then flung himself into the budding architectural movement that now forms the philosophical backbone of his consulting firm, EcoSmart Healthy Properties. "Making buildings more energy-efficient is one of the best ways to counteract the greenhouse effect," he intones from behind the desk of his Wall Street office, which features countertop material fashioned from old yogurt containers. "If developers see that they can make money, they'll build environmental buildings."

And indeed, they already are. Since the late 1980s, hundreds of U.S. corporations have enlisted people like Dimson either to design or to modify their office buildings in order to conserve energy, reduce pollution, and draw from nontoxic, recycled materials. Although this may not constitute an architectural revolution on the order of, say, Bauhaus, it is a noteworthy trend on whose cutting edge the Rittenhouse is now cheerfully perched. "We've been keeping the rooms full," says Dimson, adding that the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is scheduled to host the awards ceremony for an eco-friendly fashion show at the hotel. Dimson is looking forward to the event, though he confesses he has no idea what type of couture the DEP favors. "Who knows?" he speculates. "Maybe the models will wear clothes made out of hemp." --COLIN MOYNIHAN

PHOTOS: Chris Hartlove

Back To The Tanning Salon, Sergei

When we first heard about Russia's plan to reflect winter sunshine onto light-deprived cities of the Northern Hemisphere with the aid of a giant space mirror ("Do Not Soon Anger Us, or We Will Make Your Days Sunny and Pleasant Beyond Belief," September 1998), we were, to say the least, skeptical. After months of financial setbacks, however, it looked as though the plan might come to fruition last February when space station Mir prepared to deploy the contraption. Alas, nyet. During its unfurling, the 83-foot-diameter reflector snagged on one of Mir's antennae, shredded like tinfoil, and drifted into the atmosphere, where it was toasted to a flaming crisp. In the wake of this debacle, the pasty citizens of Reykjavík, Murmansk, and Nome must now shelve their winter sunbathing dreams until 2002, when Russia's Space Regatta Consortium hopes to launch an even bigger celestial reflector. There is, however, one caveat: "I'm pushing to keep the light out of the U.S.," says Chris Faranetta, a spokesman for Rocket Space Corporation Energia, a Russian hardware company that helped design the gizmo. Faranetta fears that if America's night sky takes on the appearance of a twilight doubleheader at Shea Stadium, the orb will become a test case for light-pollution litigation. "If we get sued," Faranetta explains, "the legal fees would bankrupt us." --ANDREW TILIN

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